18 March 2024 / Dániel Ercsey Copy actual URL Facebook share Twitter share

It's not just rosé she's interested in! - Interview with Elizabeth Gabay MW

The British Master of Wine, who lives in Provence, has attracted the attention of the wine world by not only taking seriously the biggest trend of the last decade, the rise of rosés, but also by seeking to understand the category and explore the differences between rosés. Moreover, if one can say so, her favourite region is Central and Eastern Europe.

When did you become a Master of Wine and how has this affected your life?

I passed the exam in 1998 – but initially my life did not change too much as my second child was born early 1999 – so for a few years I was preoccupied elsewhere. I ran the 1st year education course 2001, 2002 and 2003 which kept me busy. Agnes Nemeth and then the original VinCE were very important to me in getting back into the rhythm of working in wine.


Once again you represented Hungarian wines at ProWein, what masterclass did you hold?

I did sparkling wine. We were given a choice of subjects and I leaped at the chance to do sparkling wine. I think Hungary produces some amazing examples with both local and international varieties.


Which are the USPs of Hungarian wines and what do you see as their breakthrough potential?

Great terroir plus some really lovely local grape varieties (Kadarka is a big favourite) combine to give some unique flavours – and it is working on this uniqueness which is important – educating the consumer on the Hungarian character of the wines.


What has changed in the Hungarian wine industry in recent years, and in which aspects are Hungarian wines better than 10 or 20 years ago?

When I first came to Hungary in the early 1990s it was Tokaj (oxidative style) and cheap value wines. It then became more competitive in the international styles but in the past 10 years I have really enjoyed the growing focus on regional appellations and seeing the new generation of winemakers building on the success of their parents. There is less anonymous international wines, less trying to be what the export market wants and more on what Hungarians want to produce.


What are your personal favourites in terms of wine region, variety, style?

That is impossible to say!! I think I know Szekszárd the best – so that it’s very much a top personal favourite. Mátra – it always surprises me that it is not more well known as there are some truly lovely wines from there.


If it's not wine, what do you like to do in your spare time, what are your hobbies?

I live in the French alps and although not as big a hiker as my kids, I do enjoy walking, village life – café with friends, reading and recently I have returned to my early loves of travel (not to vineyards!) and theatre.


How long have you been dealing with Hungarian wine, what is your favourite story about Hungary?

My first trip was in 1993 – and lunch served to show how gastronomic Tokaj was reminded me of school dinners – arctic roll for dessert. In the restaurant there were some enticing Hungarian dishes – but I was told they were not for tourists – because we would not like them!


What is the UK consumer like today and what trends should domestic wineries consider when targeting this market?

Can I change that to French consumers? It always surprises me that Hungarian wine even makes it to my local supermarket up in the alps. Tokaj is obviously a strong contender – especially with foie gras – but I think the French market has an affinity to Hungarian wine – they appreciate the unknown grapes and the exoticness of the wines.


In which markets can Hungarian wine be successful at all? Is there even such a category as Hungarian wine?

When I went to Japan showing Hungarian wines – just before covid – the response was very enthusiastic. They seemed to like ripe supple tannins rather than harsh tannins, they liked sweet and off dry wines, and they liked the wide range of fruit flavours. They loved Kadarka – struggled to say Hárslevelű – but loved the lime blossom character – but acidity was not necessarily the biggest positive for them. I think that one category of Hungarian wine is too limiting – and the focus on regional variety is enriching.


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